Image supplied by Bruce

Winter sportsmen have a history of success in the Outsports People of the Year Awards.

Canadian figure skater Eric Radford was named Male Athlete in 2015 and 2018, and French ice dancer Guillaume Cizeron claimed the title last year. In addition, “America’s sweetheart” Adam Rippon was our Person of the Year five years ago.

Now, another “gay iceman” is joining them in our Hall of Fame.

Bobby Drake would be delighted to see it and, like the X-Men hero, our 2023 recipient is a courageous team player.

Congratulations to Bruce Mouat, the Scottish curling skip who has added World and European titles to his honor roll in the last 12 months, following on from Team Mouat taking Olympic silver at Beijing 2022. For his year of success, Mouat is Outsports Male Athlete of the Year.

The 29-year-old is in Saskatoon, Canada, for his sport’s Grand Slam tournament when he accepts the invitation of a Zoom with the promise of some good news.

“That’s amazing to hear! I’m blown away. I really didn’t expect that,” says Mouat. “Thank you to everyone at Outsports for choosing me.”

Also joining the call is his boyfriend, Craig Kyle, who’s sat on the sofa at the home they share in Stirling, Scotland. The couple recently hit their “official” two-year anniversary (they had first connected via Tinder during the pandemic lockdown of 2020) and this is their first interview together.

The first sit-down interview, anyway — there was a previous occasion when they were out for a stroll in London and a reporter stopped them for a vox pop.

“It was just after the Queen died last year and a Dutch news channel asked us to talk about it,” recalls Kyle. “Bruce was a lot better at it than me!”

They are both charmingly down to earth and comfortable in their visibility, something they have grown into naturally since Mouat came out publicly in the months building up to the Beijing Games.

First, he discussed being gay in an Instagram live for World Curling and got plenty of positive responses from fans.

Then with British athletes in demand for interviews ahead of the Olympics, and with questions about human rights in China certain to come up, he started speaking publicly about his sexuality in December 2021, explaining how being the best version of himself had helped the team dynamic too.

By this time, he was already regarded as one of curling’s star names. With Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan, he had just won the European Championships men’s title for a second time.

That followed on from the team having been runners-up at the Worlds earlier that year. Meanwhile, Mouat had also become a world champion in mixed doubles alongside another close friend, Jen Dodds.

“Curling only really becomes mainstream in an Olympic year, so late 2021 was the first time I’d had this public interest in me,” he said.

“I’d been out to family and friends since I was about 18. So British Curling and I decided we’d do a story about that ourselves, so it would be on our footing.”

The article ran on Rainbow Laces Day, part of the LGBTQ inclusion in sport campaign’s annual activation; Mouat sometimes wears the laces in his shoes on the rink.

In it, he explained how coming out within curling had been a good experience and encouraged others like him who felt ready and able to do the same to “live life authentically”.

Mouat and his boyfriend Craig Kyle with the Scottish Curling Championship trophy, secured by Team Mouat for a fourth time in February 2023.

Would he have felt as confident if he hadn’t had a boyfriend? “That’s a tough question,” he tells Outsports.

“I was pretty confident in my abilities as a curler. But it was always nice to have someone to talk to about it, and Craig was that person that I would go to.

“Obviously we spoke about me doing the story and he was cool with it. We even ended up getting into the newspaper in Hawick, the town where Craig’s from, which is quite funny!”

Sweeping Bruce off his feet

Kyle works as a fiber broadband engineer but was able to be in Ottawa in April to see his boyfriend lead Scotland to its first men’s World Curling Championships crown since 2009.

In the final, Team Mouat surged into a 4-0 lead over Canada after three ends and though the hosts managed to reduce the deficit, an emphatic eighth end wrapped up a 9-3 victory.

With so many family and friends in a crowd of around 5,000 in the arena, the skip considers it their best career moment to date, certainly sweeter than Beijing where silver medals resulted in an “Olympic hangover” feeling of what might have been.

When Canada conceded after Mouat’s three-point hit and stay, the Worlds was theirs. Up in the stands, Kyle couldn’t contain his excitement.

“I’d had a wee bit to drink during the game, to calm the nerves,” he said. “The president of Scottish Curling went down on the ice to congratulate the boys and we all gathered by the side of the rink.

“He spotted me and waved us over, so I jumped over the barrier and off I went! The images caught me congratulating Bruce and everybody else. It was absolutely amazing to be there.”

Tears of joy were shed. Later, Mouat would tell the Olympic Channel that Kyle’s surprise appearance nearly caused him to drop the trophy — “he almost rugby tackled me!” — but the coolest man in curling quickly regained his composure as the sense of achievement began to sink in.

“With Beijing, we hadn’t had family and friends there because of Covid,” he says, “but there were other reasons why it meant more than the Olympics.

“Curling is primarily focused in Canada so to compete and win there was big. But above all, a World Championship was what I’d dreamed of when I was younger, growing up in the sport.

“The Olympics only comes around every four years whereas the Worlds was always the number one focus. So winning the Olympics can be the next one — hopefully!”

Team Mouat are true professionals, their weeks taken up by strength and conditioning sessions in the gym as well as training time.

They are also raising the profile of curling at a time when rising energy prices and the cost-of-living crisis in the U.K. are threatening rinks across the country with closure.

The one in Ayr — where ice dancer Lewis Gibson, Moaut’s friend and fellow out gay Team GB Olympian, learned to skate — shut its doors in September after “substantial debts” reportedly caused a buyout failure. The rink’s future remains uncertain.

It’s a disappointing development for curling as it tries to take advantage of its elevated status. Rugby player and fan Kyle is among those to have taken it up — he even finished second in the National Gateway Championship for beginners.

“Our club in Stirling is definitely growing and the quality is pretty decent,” he says. “Even in Hawick where I’m from, some of my friends have jumped on the bandwagon.” He’s almost become an unofficial ambassador for curling. “I definitely have a lot more Instagram followers now!”

With so few out gay couples in men’s sport, it’s always refreshing when the boys pop up on our Instagram timelines, happily sharing pics of home bakes, outdoor hikes, and even a hot-tub installation in the garden.

Meanwhile, in other activity away from the ice, Mouat switched roles in June to become the interviewer when he hosted a series of Pride Month conversations for Team GB’s digital platforms.

After sharing more of his own story, he asked swimmer Dan Jervis, badminton player Kirsty Gilmour, and rowers Saskia Budgett and Kyra Edwards about their journeys as LGBTQ athletes. “That was the most scared I’ve ever been for an interview! Being the journalist, it’s on you to keep the questions flowing.

“But I enjoyed doing it. It was one of the highlights of my summer and I loved hearing about their different experiences. I think they’ll all be off to the Paris Olympics and I wish them the best.”

Targets and teamwork

For an athlete with something of a “stone face” reputation as a competitor, Moaut doesn’t take himself too seriously.

He’s posed in a pair of underpants for a Men of Curling charity calendar (and in just a kilt, while underwater) and is regularly beaming in photos, such as when Team Mouat’s recent European triumph in Aberdeen resulted in a bonus prize from sponsors Le Gruyere. The Swiss cheese mountain has been on his mind. “We really need to start eating it up… fancy fondue for Christmas, Craig?”

Switzerland is on the springtime schedule for 2024, with the town of Schaffhausen hosting the next World Championships. Team Mouat will want to defend their title there, although the skip is far from complacent about being selected by Scottish Curling, given the high national standard; they only narrowly beat Team Craik in the final in Dumfries last time around.

Meanwhile, the 2026 Winter Olympics is still some way off but Milano Cortina is never too far from their thoughts either — again, if selected.

And could we ever see him play alongside Kyle in competition? The two boyfriends have teamed up only once as a pair, last year. “It didn’t go too well that first time, so we’re not sure if we’ll do it again,” Mouat admits with a wry grin, while Kyle chips in to say he wouldn’t want to add to the grumpy husband-and-wife pairings he sometimes sees at local clubs.

The implication is clear — as far as curling is concerned, they’re not quite on the same sheet. But they recognize that by being visible together, they’re achieving something that transcends sport.

“There have been messages, sometimes from young LGBTQ people but more often from parents, to say how grateful they are,” says Mouat.

“We always want to encourage that individual to continue in their sport because that’s the big worry, that they won’t think there’s a space for them.

“But there always is — maybe it’s just a bit harder to find. As an openly gay man in curling, I can help by showing that our sport is for everyone.”

One ambition he has is to give back by helping set up a Scottish equivalent of PrideCurl, Canada’s LGBTQ-inclusive league that has clubs in 12 cities coast to coast.

That would give him a sense of pride to rank up there with his place in the Scottish LGBT+ Hall of Fame, bestowed upon him in the summer.

It’s all a far cry from a decade ago, when Mouat was a moody 19-year-old who felt trapped by his inability to tell his teammates that he is gay. A psychologist helped him to conquer his fear and in turn, he learned to trust others, unlocked his full potential, and allowed himself to fall in love.

Over the festive season, the couple will certainly raise a glass to the good times they’ve had in 2023. “I’m going to get back for Christmas and we’re gonna have pretty much two weeks solid together,” says Mouat.

He promises they’ll toast his Outsports Male Athlete of the Year accolade too. “Honestly, this is a real honor for me,” he adds. “I’m still in a bit of a shock.”

Other athletes considered for the award:

Lewis Gibson and his ice dance partner Lilah Fear won their first gold medal at a Grand Prix event with November’s NHK Trophy triumph in Japan. Gibson came out as gay publicly in 2022.

Merrick McHenry was a key player in the UCLA team that won the NCAA men’s volleyball tournament in May, with the Bruins thwarting Hawaii’s bid to win a third consecutive title.

● Speed skater Conor McDermott-Mostowy claimed three medals at the US National Championships in October.

● Brazilian gymnast Arthur Nory Mariano won gold, two silver and a bronze at the Pan American Games in Santiago.

● Extreme athlete Aidan Hyman became the youngest known queer mountain climber to reach base camp of K2, the second-highest mountain on earth.

Previous winners of the Outsports Male Athlete of the Year Award

2022: Guillaume Cizeron

2021: Tom Daley, Sir Lee Pearson

2020: Rob Kearney

2019: 8 out gay and bi college football players

2018: Eric Radford

2017: Robbie Manson

2016: Orlando Cruz

2015: Eric Radford

2014: Robbie Rogers